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The Worst Part Of Sex Work Isn’t The Sex, It’s The Stigma

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Written Anonymously: Trigger Warning

The pandemic affected everyone. I couldn’t begin to describe the innumerable amount of ways that COVID-19 challenged our view of what is normal. What I can do is explain how it affected me and my normal.

When the political upheaval surrounding the pandemic resulted in lockdown-based economic collapse, I didn’t have a safety net or any other kind of support system provided by a strong family unit or a long term relationship. The threat of homelessness loomed and I had to make a decision. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, I found myself making less than I did when I graduated college back in 2010. I was a waitress at a restaurant in Humboldt County, not exactly the most metropolitan place on the planet, and still, I was making more than I was in post-pandemic America. 

Shortly after, I was in the East Bay taking temp jobs and couch surfing. The lack of stability was pushing me to the edge. I began struggling with suicidal ideation. I knew that I needed a change of scenery or else I wouldn’t make it. I didn’t have the money nor the support, but I knew I needed to take a chance on myself, or I’d find the nearest bridge and jump. 

Thankfully, I opted for the former. 

The biggest burden I faced during my time as a sex worker was judgment from friends and even potential romantic partners. 

I moved to a new city without a dollar in my pocket or a plan. I recalled hearing about how girls sometimes became escorts as a way to temporarily get on their feet when in between jobs. I never was a SWERF so I decided to give it a try. The thought of suicide was ever present, so what did I really have to fucking lose? 

Turns out the actual sex work was the least of my worries.

The clients were all different: some good, some bad. I learned how to establish healthy boundaries for myself because each one had different expectations. The biggest burden I faced during my time as a sex worker was judgment from friends and even potential romantic partners. 

I made the mistake of telling a best friend of mine what I was doing for work and I made the comment that the married clients were the easiest because they often didn’t like communicating (texting, soliciting photos) in between appointments, which created less expectations to meet. While I found this observation interesting, my best friend accused me of being a homewrecker and asked me why my client didn’t just “get a divorce”. I was offended, at first, and told this friend that whether or not I existed this person would find physical connection with someone outside of the marriage regardless, and that sometimes people stay in marriages that have everything but physical fulfillment, and while that is found elsewhere the emotional connection in the marriage can still exist. 

The fact that this friend didn’t care about my ability to afford to live, yet instead cared more about a stranger’s marriage than her own friend. That is when I also realized how isolating and alienating sex work can be. When I told my friend about my work, I could feel her perception of me warping. I was no longer her friend, I transformed into something other than human. It hurt, because I wasn’t doing this to destroy marriages. I was doing it to survive. Was this just another form of suicide? Was I committing social suicide?

I was hurt by my friend’s judgment, yet fascinated by her subconscious hypocrisy. I wanted to understand why people could be so judgmental and typecast sex workers while the economy requires people to sell their bodies in other socially acceptable ways. I worked as a waitress for over seven years and the fact that creepy men could know where to find me five plus days a week and stare at my ass for free; all the while management pooled tips to avoid paying the kitchen a livable wage, felt more exploitative than sex work. However, when I tried to explain this to my friend she wouldn’t listen. That’s when I realized the moment I admitted to being involved in sex work, my opinion meant nothing, my existence meant nothing, my ability to stay housed meant nothing. 

Sex work is the world’s oldest profession, and stigmatizing it won’t make it disappear. The only thing it does is hurt the women who are risking their bodies in an unregulated market.

Sex workers don’t need cheerleaders, but we do need friends. So if you call yourself a friend to someone who is a sex worker, maybe try being one.

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